In the interest of keeping things fresh, I’ve decided to take a twist from my cookbook/business book reviews and dip my eyeballs into something a little more historic. I figured with the recent election and all the changes going on in American politics, it’d be interesting to take a look at a book that really delves from an insider’s perspective how political decisions are made.
The Gatekeepers by Chris Whipple is a tell-all book about how White House Chiefs of Staff. This is a role few people recognize as “important,” but in reality, it’s the “second most powerful job in the government” that doesn’t require an election or a confirmation. That basically means the President gets to pick this person…and the President also has the power to fire this person. Reading through the book, I couldn’t help but feel this sense of fraternity. Not like tank tops and keg stands fraternity, but this brotherhood of closely-kept secrets, difficult decisions, and friendship built upon this unspoken trust between the President and his chief.
The book includes interviews and stories from all of the seventeen living chiefs, as well as two former presidents. There are plenty of scandals for the salacious reader (e.g. Iran-Contra, Watergate, and Monica Lewinsky), but there are also really gripping accounts about how the media and public opinion influenced otherwise non-controversial acts by a President.
What struck me the most about this book is how it really details important moments in history and how much forethought is put into a decision others may seen done as reckless or emotional. There is so much of a spotlight on the President, it’s difficult to lay blame for decisions on anyone else…and why shouldn’t that be the case? The Gatekeepers really highlights how so many of the decisions that are labeled as “the President decided to this,” really should have been attributed to his chief at the time, but for one reason or another, they weren’t. Whipple really delves into the internal struggles faced by many presidents and their chiefs. There is this balancing act of pleasing the public, while still maintaining things like national security and public relations.
There are countless black and white, as well as color photos which really add to this sense of an “insider’s perspective.” Whipple engages readers with his “to the point” writing style, but is able to weave in details to make you feel like you’re right there with the chiefs as they toil with difficult decisions that could potentially impact the whole country, and at times, the whole world.
As an aside to the actual text of the book, I really like that this one had an index. I flipped there immediately to see what kinds of topics were covered and was very surprised to find things like resignation offers that never materialized and assassination attempts that many people may not know about.
Overall, I’d say this book is an excellent addition to any American history buff…and even if you’re not, like me, it was a great read. The book is a beautiful hardbound edition, and keeping in true historian fashion, there are nearly 300 footnotes if you’re looking to continue your reading after you finish this one!
Score Card: Cover Art 5/5 | Content 6/5 | Ease of Read 4.5/5
I was provided a complimentary copy of this book by the publisher, but all thoughts are my honest opinion after reading it.